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Dieter Rams’ Good Design versus Jony Ive’s Bad Design

Dieter Rams is one of the most innovative and significant designers in the world today.  His ten principles of Good design are:

1. Good design should be innovative — It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty just for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must clearly be seen in all of a product’s functions. Current technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

2. Good design should make a product useful — The product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose, in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product’s usability.

3. Good design is aesthetic design — The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4. Good design will make a product understandable — It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5. Good design is honest — It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

6. Good design is unobtrusive — Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

7. Good design is long lived — It does not follow trends that become out-dated after a short time. Well designed products differ significantly from short-lived, trivial products in today’s throwaway world.

8. Good design is consistent in every detail — Nothing must be arbitrary. Thoroughness and accuracy in the design process shows respect towards the user.

9. Good design should be environmentally friendly — Design must make contributions towards a stable environment and sensible raw material situation. This does not only include actual pollution, but also visual pollution and destruction of our environment.

10. Good design is as little design as possible — Less is more – because it concentrates on the essential aspects and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

It must therefore be horrible for Mr. Rams to have so influenced Ive and Apple so. Apple copies his esthetics but pisses over his ideas. Instead of Good design Apple makes bad design. Something that is holistically created to look beautiful, to feel as it looks and whose marketing seamlessly flows into the look and feel of the product but it is actually a bad product. Close your eyes and touch a number of smartphones and ask yourself, “which is the most expensive?”, “which is the sexiest?”, “which feels like it would last the longest?”, or which of these feels most like a horcrux? And, at least when I tested this repeatedly, you will invariably choose an Apple product.

In any product category look at the principles of Good Design and ask yourself which company seems to fit these principles? It is often Apple except for when the key environmental aspects are concerned.  Apple steals the “Design” bit and forgets the good. Press a button on an Apple product and note that the press is exactly in tune with the look of the thing. It feels weighty and durable. Brush your hand over an Apple thing and it feels sleek and somehow right and long lasting. Hold an Apple product and compare its heft and how it feels in its hand to competitors, Apple feels superior in every way. Brush over and Apple laptop and do the same with several others. Ask yourself which feels more like art?

By designing holistically, using 3D printing in its design and development extensively, iterating and by putting design first Apple has conquered the world of consumer electronics. A big part of its victory is the wholesale theft of Dieter Rams’ esthetic. But, while Apple steals the looks and many ideas for its products from Rams, Apple’s completely betrays Good Design. Apple makes disposable products, $2000 laptops that after 18 months lose their battery power whilst the casing of it is engineered in such a way as to make it nigh impossible to replace the battery. Apple releases new products at messianic global events that result in millions of people lamenting the sorry state of their two year old “old phone” and pining for a new even sleeker model. By tapping into a cycle of want and need Apple engineers obsolecence and floods the world with millions of products designed to break just in time for the new update.  Apple is quite simply put the chief exponent of Bad design.

Look at this principle, “Good design is honest — It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.” Apple does the exact opposite of this, using Rams’ esthetic and way of working but continually makes things look more innovative, valuable and powerful than they are. Apple manipulates everyone all the time with promises that can not be kept, every new product a new revolution that will change everything. Every new version does not live up to the hype but instead of turning our backs to this company we crave even newer and more perfect exponents of promises that will never be kept.

If we look at other principles then Apple copies them slavishly and then omits some crucial details. “Good design should be innovative — It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty just for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must clearly be seen in all of a product’s functions. Current technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.” Apple copies existing product forms slavishly. Apple as a company is centered around novelty for novelty’s sake. Apple is great and showcasing the essence of innovation in functionality.

Apple as a business does nothing for the environment and indeed is less responsible and less involved with this than competitors. Apple is all about superficiality. It will lie to you beautifully and while you believe that everything you touch is so good for you it is actually bad for this planet. This has annoyed me for ages and I’ve been waiting so patiently for all this Apple fetishism to die off. Don’t get me wrong, as a company Apple is incredibly good at executing and they have done many innovative and significant things. Its just that perverts Good design by its Bad design and that this is placing a disproportionate and unnecessary burden on the environment. Apple could still be a fantastically profitable company if it showed an interest in the environment and took a modicum of interest in sustainability. The positive impact it could make by just any incremental environmental improvement spread out over the millions of devices it makes could be huge. And yet they don’t do it. They make beautiful things with terrible souls. Therefore,

Jony Ive’s Ten Principles of Bad Design. 

1.  Make superficial products. It has to look good, little else matters.

2. Design holistically in order to maximize hype. Make sure the branding, marketing, hype, rumors, look and feel of the product all coincide perfectly. Designing the lie is much more important than designing the actual thing.

3. Promise revolutions. Always frame everything in a revolutionary context, everything is evermore revolutionary all the time. Overclaim always. Ignore previous work in any field and ignore competing products.

4. It has to look slick. Everything slick, slippery and oh so polished and glossy.

5. Lie well. People will believe what you tell them to if you make it compelling enough. This is much easier than actually making a good thing.

6. Patronize the user. You know best, the user must be a rat in your design maze. They must be forced to interact with the device exactly how you want them to.

7. Keep the user out. The user must not be able to open their product or change it in any way.

8. Make sure the product always has a limited life span. Preferably make it so that products begin to fail around the launch of its replacement.

9. Fake mystique. Frame your products, your launches, your company and your people in a completely different light than others. Present your products as completely new product categories and always portray yourselves as being fundamentally different from others to mask the herd behavior you initiate and the little value you add.

10. Steal from Dieter Rams. Take all of the Design bits and leave out all of the Good bits.

Given enough eyeballs, all things are shallow.

Iterative product development, using 3D printing in combat.

Mission Possible, full face masks.

3D printing a blank canvas.

The Sistine Chapel in an age of screens.

Dear HP, Brother and Seiko, please make a 3D printer.

Punished for producing quality.

3D printing verus Mass production, 1% of everything.

All images by ReneSpitz. Creative Commons Attribution, no derivs.

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  1. Tasha
    04. Dec, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    I think that you ascribe design decisions as belonging to Jony Ive that are actually Steve Job’s way of making things. Would Ive choose to create things that are better environmentally, if the Late Steve Jobs hadn’t dictated the design parameters that are against that? Pretty much everything you accuse Ive of standing for is actually something that Steve Jobs dictated and had direct control over.

    Also you take a few edge cases in the case of battery life to condemn the whole line. Most batteries last 3 years or more. Most customers of Cell phones and Laptops don’t ever buy a second battery.

    Also, the culture of replacing technology every 2-3 years was in place way before Apple released the iPod. It was something fostered in the World of Windows computers where underpowered POS computers are foisted off on the public for next to nothing. Knowing that they will be replaced quickly. At least Apple doesn’t play that game.

    Apple’s product lasts for years and years. Their competitors with their plastic POS devices are the ones that die after 6 months to a year at most. Apple doesn’t add new features until said feature is ready to go (Siri and Maps are aberations, not the way things were done in the past).

    Perhaps you should actually look at what all of the companies put out on the market. Apple doesn’t always get stuff right, but they do more often than Dell, HP or even Microsoft does.

  2. Joris Peels
    04. Dec, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Tasha, thank you for your thoughtful reply. It could be that the philosophy is all Jobs and not Ive. Its difficult for me as an outsider to tell.

    I think placing inferior batteries is a serious charge I’d like to level at the company. But, more importantly is engineering the product to make it difficult to replace the battery at all. Almost all Apple products require you to break the case or carry out rather unusual operations in order to replace the battery.

    Its an interesting point that Windows was playing the same game. I always thought that their strategy was different: sell people a machine, make much gunk to make the machine not work anymore because it is too slow for the new applications, sell new machine.

    To me Apple is specifically concerned with making the hardware obsolete directly by replacing it. It is a different path, a more dangerous one, since we are pushed to fall out of love with these imperfect devices while being pushed to crave more perfect ones. Apple romances the device an sich. But, that the “culture of replacing technology” was in place before Apple is a very good point. You’ve changed my thinking on that point. Thanks!

    I don’t agree that Apple products last years and years. Apple is not Nokia. If you drop an Apple device they tend to self destruct. I think they feel everlasting but the build quality itself is not up to the emotive response engineered by Apple.

    When I look at other companies I think of for example Kenwood or Subaru. These are firms that put out long lasting products that last for decades or more. In a disposable world it is these companies that are being punished for succeeding.

    • bidou
      15. May, 2013 at 8:38 am #

      I think you’ve totally mistaken the indutrial design field of application, and that your anger toward apple is not design related.

      It’s false to say that apple hardware don’t last. There maybe not the toughest, but you can’t say it’s cheap and fragile. And even if they decided to replace some electronic part buy some cheap and underlasting ones, would it be a decision from the design studio ?

      Sure hardware get obsolete quick, but that’s how electronics goes nowadays. But Apple design last. Every computer model stay on catalog for five to ten years without major design revision. Obviously the hardware get updated, but the design stay the same.

      In a design point of view, Apple products are the closest to Dieter Rams philosophy in the mainstream electronic industry, and i dare you to find another closest company.

      • Joris Peels
        15. May, 2013 at 9:15 am #

        Apple is far from Rams. It looks the part but doesn’t actually conform to the philosophy.

        Closer companies in my opinion are for example both Kenwoods (Kitchen and audio are different companies), Seiko, Subaru, Toyota, Carhartt, Bamix, Miele, Maglite, Patagonia, Nokia & Le Creuset.

  3. Morton
    06. Dec, 2012 at 5:40 am #

    This article’s so fundamentally off base It would require paragraphs to address all the incorrect statements. this note was sent from my apple laptop, which has functioned flawlessly for over 5 years on the same battery.

  4. Dave
    16. Jan, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    I read your intelligent posts on 3D printing and wanted to check out what you had to say on the Rams-Ive connection only to be disappointed. I don’t know why you feel the urge to create straw man arguments around replacement, when in fact Apple products are known to last longer and be used longer than generic competitors. Now that the stock price is down journalists and stock analysts are banging on about how there is not enough replacement going on. If you don’t trust them – and you shouldn’t – then take a look at the second hand market. People are voting with their hard earned money to buy at times several years old equipment despite the fast progression and obsolescence caused by Moore’s law. Can you say the same for PCs and mobile phones?

    Fact is Dieter Rams himself has stated that the only company that takes design seriously is Apple. Not Subaru or Kenwood despite their other benefits. What sets Apple apart is that they not only take the individual product design seriously but that they have created the infrastructure to produce, distribute and advertise these products on an unprecedented scale. Maybe that is what irritates you? That Apple is a new form of mass manufacturer that is successful despite not catering excessively to replacement.

  5. Darryl
    02. Jun, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Dave kind of shuts your whole article down by pointing out that Dieter rams did in fact name Apple as the only company that takes design seriously. You can hear it for yourself in the documentary Objectified.

    I get that sometimes when you have a thought that organizes itself cogently into an appearance of reason that it’s hard to resist the urge to blog it, but you’re saying that Dieter Rams doesn’t even know his own code.

    And I too have a now 6 year old iMac that runs like a charm, and it’s survived being shipped over seas twice by sea.

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